Tee is for trend

Banish your inner Ted with a t-shirt


This article is taken from the May 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Not to make this about me (LOLS, it’s always about me), but I realise this year’s columns are going a tad De Profundis. The question arises: is Betts having a breakdown, or is fashion? The answer, of course, is that these matters are not either/or.

In the four weeks since I last vented about the economics of the industry no longer working, luxury e-tailer Matchesfashion has gone to the wall.

In December, onetime e-commerce powerhouse Farfetch staved off bankruptcy, its founder falling upon his sword in February, amidst lawsuits from shareholders.

Quoth the New York Times: “The future of Yoox Net-a-Porter also hangs in the balance after a failed deal between Richemont, its parent group, and Farfetch last year. Richemont, which listed Net-a-Porter under ‘discontinued operations’ in its most recent earnings report, has said it is looking for a buyer and will not invest further cash.” This from the sector that was supposed to save retail.

Shoppers can’t afford fashion, the planet can’t afford fashion, plus it increasingly feels like a borderline psychologically-damaging force in many of our lives. Okay, yes — me, again. But, also for the zillions of others engaged in “no buys”, “mindful consumerism”, “closet cleansing” and the like.

Still, the alternative is getting stuck, or what I like to refer to as “becoming an ageing Teddy Boy”. Allow me to explain.

As I execute a hot-girl walk into my mid-fifties, I increasingly find myself brooding on the spectacle of fat, fiftysomething Teds that haunted my Birmingham youth in the late Seventies to Eighties.

This wasn’t a phenomenon in middle-class Moseley, peopled as it was by Trotskyite academics, playwrights and BBC producers. However, if we drove through Longbridge, say, there they’d be — greased, side-burned and brothel-creepered, stomachs straining over drainpipes.

In Moseley, we hosted a few barefoot and patchoulied hippies. They didn’t seem as glaringly stranded as these benighted Teds, as lost in time as the neckerchiefed bargemen at the nearby Black Country Museum.

Gen Xers such as myself scorn Millennials for resembling so many Andy Pandies with their mullets and androgynous dungarees, and we mock Gen Z’s skintight, gynaecologically-revealing athleisure. Meanwhile, we deem our own garb “classic”.

But, it isn’t, is it? It’s merely fashion once so ubiquitous we couldn’t actually see it because it simply registered as “clothes”. What we loved and bowed out on; the stopped clock of our own style journeys. Whilst the young gaze in horror, thinking: “Teds!”

The solution, if not capital “F” fashion, is to keep pushing our own envelopes, at least. Last month, I suggested a couple of modish hues. Now, I’m back with a “piece”: the white t-shirt. Like so many of this season’s trends it is a “staple”, along with white shirts, trench coats and penny loafers.

Naturally, this means I’ve never owned one — my wardrobe being more about ruffs, capes and vast feathered headdresses. Still, you may well do so, it being, as Giorgio Armani put it: “the alpha and omega of the fashion alphabet”.

If you want to offset said garment’s monastic simplicity with a bout of consumer hysteria, Vogue’s guide to spring’s best runs to 102 pages. Alex Shulman, the magazine’s former editor, currently boasts 37, “but only three I consider perfect” in terms of neckline, proportions and fabric, sourced from Cos, James Perse, Velvet and Gap.

Personally, I want to give my white t-shirt no thought whatsoever: the aim of this fresh start/blank slate being to cure my fashion OCD, not foster it. Accordingly, I’m thrilled to have ME+EM’s new Tee Lab to do the thinking for me/us (because sometimes it is also about you).

Behold, an edit of t-shirts and vests in an array of fits and cuts, including lightweight, slim-rib styles to balance out a wide trouser or skirt, and cropped, boxy shapes that can be tucked without adding bulk, or left untucked to expose a waistband. You could even visit one of the brand’s eight stores and demand its assistants decide for you, whilst you pass into a fugue state.

I particularly admire the bright white, neat-shouldered Cotton Crop Tee (£55, meandm.com, main picture), slim fit with a crew neckline, short sleeves and a level hem. When I modelled it, the straight man in my life decreed: “It’s not you, but it’s brilliantly cut,” which was precisely the point. Clean, effortless, current — and resolutely un-Ted.

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